Answer: The best way to become an expert gardener is just to dig right in! The health of your soil will determine the health of your plants, so let's begin at ground level. If the soil is really hard, it probably needs some organic matter. There are all kinds of organic matter; aged compost, peat moss, leaf mold or aged manure. Spread a thick layer (4" - 5") over the soil surface and dig it in to a depth of 6" - 8" inches. Organic matter will help loosen the soil, making it easier for the plant roots to penetrate, and help the soil retain moisture. As the organic matter decomposes, it will release nutrients to the plants roots. Once you've incorporated lots of organic matter, smooth the bed by raking it, removing rocks and other debris. Then you can sow seeds or plant seedlings. If the new bed is mostly shady, choose plants that grow best in shade. If it receives hot afternoon sun, choose plants that thrive in hot, dry conditions. Some easy to grow shade loving plants include Lobelia, Impatiens, Pansies and Forget-Me-Not. Easy to grow sun loving plants include Cosmos, Marigold, Zinnia, Alyssum, Verbena and California Poppy. If you sow seeds, keep the soil moist until the seedlings appear. If you transplant seedlings, dig a hole large enough to accommodate the roots without crowding, and space the plants according to instructions so they'll each have enough elbow room to reach their full potential. Then water regularly, feed every 3-4 weeks with a diluted liquid fertilizer, and keep the spent blooms pinched off to encourage additional blooms. Be sure to keep weeds pulled so they won't compete with your plants. An easy way to keep the garden weed free is to add a layer of mulch over the top of the soil after you've planted your flowers. Good luck with your first garden. I hope it is spectacular!
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